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GO Gaston: Mountain Island Park Trail offers scenic Catawba views

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

By Bill Poteat, Posted Sep 28, 2018 at 1 :39 PM Updated Sep 28, 2018 at 1 :39 PM The official slogan for the city of Mount Holly is "Connecting Community and Nature."

Nowhere is that connection stronger than at Mountain Island Park and its 3.2-mile greenway which follows the west shore of the Catawba River as its winds south toward Belmont.

The wide, soft surface trail is shaded by mature hardwoods, has benches and trash receptacles spaced at regular intervals, and provides opportunities to see water fowl in the river and other wildlife in the deep woods through which it passes.

LOCATION: The official address for the park is 304 Mountain Island Dam Road. I simply followed N.C. 273 North from Belmont, turned right onto Mountain Island Road, and then hung another right onto a gravel road. The parking area for both the park and a fishing area is at the end of the line.

HOURS: The park and the trail are open from dawn to dusk each day. My advice? Be back to your car before sunset. The parking area and the trail are remote -- nice for seeking solitude and seeing wildlife but not where I'd want to be after dark.

AMENITIES: In addition to the walking trail, the park offers a canoe launch, a handicapped­ accessible fishing pier, a small children's playground, and several picnic tables.

CAMPING: Several primitive campsites are located along the trail, each equipped with a tent pad, picnic table and charcoal grill. Camping requires advanced registration which may be done by calling 704-827-3931.

RESTROOMS: Sorry, there are none. Not even a port-a-potty.

BIKES: Bikes are welcome on the trail, although the trail is up and down and the surface is better suited to mountain bikes than to street bikes. Plans are in development for a separate mountain bike trail in the park.

MY VERDICT: The location for this small park is truly a place of beauty with the Mountain Island Lake Dam and Hydro Station towering above the river to the north. Beneath the dam, the Catawba is wide and wooded on both sides.

On the morning of my visit, a kingfisher was skimming the water, a great blue heron was patiently fishing along the east shore, and a gaggle of Canadian geese were having a honking party in the middle of the stream.

The trail begins at the south end of the parking area at a kiosk with a very clear map of the trail and the area through which it passes.

From the beginning of the trail to its terminus is a distance of roughly 1.6 miles, thus making the roundtrip journey a 3.2-mile walk.

The first .60-mile of the trail is very flat and offers numerous views of the river, both from the trail itself and from numerous "social" trails that lead right down to the river's edge.

If young children or folks not in the best of shape are walking with you, the second trail kiosk at the .60-mark would make an excellent turnaround for a 1.2-mile stroll.

The one mile of trail after the second kiosk is much more up and down and has a more remote feel. The woods are beautiful here and will only grow more so as the autumn progresses and the colors change.

A highlight of this section of trail is four sturdily-constructed bridges which provide safe and dry crossings over small creeks and ravines.

The only disappointment? A sign which proclaims "Trail Ends Here" at the 1.6-mile mark, even though it plainly continues on downstream.

This trail is part of the Carolina Thread Trail network for which the Catawba Lands Conservancy is the lead agency.

Other partners with the city in establishing this trail include the Cleanwater Management Trust Fund, Duke Energy, the North Carolina State Parks system, Tarheel Trailblazers, and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

If you're looking for a scenic spot to enjoy a relaxing walk along the Catawba River, I highly recommend Mount Holly's Mountain Island Park Trail.

Bill Poteat, who would always rather be outside than in, may be reached at 704-869-1855.